March 8, 2016 (JUBA) – South Sudanese rival forces have traded accusations over renewed fighting in different locations of the country despite the permanent ceasefire agreement they reached in accordance with the peace agreement signed in August 2015 which should have ended 21 months of civil war.
- SPLA soldiers sit at the back of a pick-up truck in Malakal, Upper Nile state January 12, 2014. (Photo Reuters/Andreea Campeanu)
The fighting occurred on Monday and Tuesday in Koch county, Unity state, and Ulang and Nasir counties in Upper Nile state between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir’s government and forces loyal to the first vice president designate, Riek Machar, who leads the armed opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO).
A senior military officer in the command of the South Sudanese national army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), on Tuesday claimed that the armed opposition forces of the SPLA-IO carried out attacks on positions held by their forces around Nasir town.
Lieutenant General Johnson Gony Biliu, the overall sector commander of the government forces in Upper Nile region, told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday that he has been receiving reports of unusual military activities of the opposition forces in the areas around Nasir town. He added that he thought it was part of preparations to assemble the opposition forces to leave for Juba until the attack occurred on Monday.
General Biliu blamed “anti-peace elements” within the SPLA-IO forces for allegedly attacking government troops in the area.
“This must be the work of some anti-peace elements within the SPLM-IO forces. It must not be treated as a planned and coordinated attack because their leaders in Juba are talking about their preparations to leave to Juba as part of security arrangements,” General Biliu told Sudan Tribune.
“So we will treat it as an isolated incident until it is proved there was intention to derail the peace [agreement] by the leadership of SPLM-IO,” he said.
Peter Hoth Tuach, information minister in the newly created Latjor state of which Nasir is its capital, also confirmed in a separate interview with Sudan Tribune that fighting erupted on Monday between the rival forces and continued on Tuesday. He further claimed that the town had come under attack from the forces believed to be members of the SPLA-IO.
The attackers, he added, were however repulsed and the security situation has been brought under control.
“The SPLA-IO forces launched an attack on Monday. They were shelling Nasir town and it resumed today (Tuesday) but it was repulsed. The situation now is calm,” Tuach said.
However, SPLA-IO’s military spokesman, Colonel William Gatjiath Deng, claimed that government forces came out of their locations and surprised the opposition forces with coordinated attacks, including in Koch county of Unity state.
He said fighting continued in the areas until Tuesday but the opposition forces repulsed the government troops, allegedly killing a number of them and seizing many of their weapons in the process of self-defence.
But minister Tuach of the Latjor state government said their forces did not go out of their positions but fought back in self-defence.
“The governor here spoke to our SPLA high command and was informed that our forces in the area did not go out to any of the positions held by the SPLA-IO forces. They were the ones who came out to attack the positions of our forces and so they had to return fire in self-defense,” Tuach told Sudan Tribune.
Minister Tuach said he believed the attack might have been carried out by “spoilers and anti-peace elements” within the SPLA-IO.
“Actually the governor did his best and he reached almost the senior military officers at our command headquarters here and the information he received shows that this was not a coordinated and planned attack. It may have [been] the work of spoilers and some disgruntled and anti-peace elements within the SPLM-IO. Because if this was a planned and coordinated attack, then I don’t understand how they would do that when they know their leader is coming to Juba,” he said.
15 KILLED IN CLASHES
The acting spokesman of the SPLA, Lt. Col. Marko Mayol, confirmed the fighting on Tuesday morning in Nasir, but declined to speak about the casualties.
“We heard that there was fighting in Nasir this morning, following an attack by the rebels but we have no details,” said Lt. Col. Mayol, in Juba.
But a government soldier once deployed to Nasir told Sudan Tribune that 5 soldiers lost their lives and 10 others are wounded. The source said 13 SPLA-IO soldiers were also killed though this could not be confirmed independently.
The UN peacekeeping mission which has a mission in Nasir also confirmed there was shooting in the early hours on Tuesday but could not confirm if there was fighting between rival forces.
Sudan Tribune was unable to independently verify the veracity of the allegations, given that such military developments took place in remote places where network facilities have lost connections.
Observers however say anti-peace elements from both sides could have been behind the recent skirmishes.
The fighting took place in states which will be governed by the opposition faction of the SPLM-IO once a transitional government of national unity (TGoNU) is formed, according to the power sharing agreement.
President Kiir on the day of appointment of the governors from the 6 newly created states of Upper Nile region told the governors that they will be removed and be replaced with new governors nominated by the SPLM-IO leadership.
Opposition forces which comprise part of the joint police and military forces are awaiting transportation to the national capital, Juba, from various locations in the country in accordance with the security arrangements signed by the rival parties.
The arrival of the joint opposition forces in Juba will be followed by the return to the national capital of the top opposition leader, Machar, who will form the transitional unity government with President Kiir.